Coming to the end of 2023, we might look back at where Crypto, DeFi, Web3, or whatever we're calling it now, has been in recent years and wonder: Were ICOs, leveraged trading of app tokens and memecoins, or collecting JPEGs really all that meaningful? Were they all just the party tricks of bull cycles – fun for a while, but nothing more?
But behind those party tricks is something deeper: true, open digital identity and ownership on the internet. This new capability will change everything – it's just a matter of time. And we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of a good party either.
One reason I'm so confident in the future of Web3 and its staying power is that it’s a lot like hip-hop, which celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. Hip-hop represents an incredibly powerful and enduring ethos that started with one DJ rocking a party with a pair of turntables and has grown into arguably the most influential global cultural force of the 21st century – despite all the cards being stacked against it from the start.
What Makes Hip-Hop Thrive
Hip-hop's originating DJs realized that they could create great music in a new way: they could directly draw on the power of past artists and genres by combing through crates of records and pulling out the best elements. They could then amplify those elements, combine them, layer them together, and make something new and even more powerful to get a crowd moving.
But that wasn’t all. Something equally important happened when DJs started rocking parties with this new ethos. People in that crowd recognized the greatness of what they heard, and realized that this was music that they themselves could add to and improve. Many of the golden age hip-hop artists tell stories of going to a show and realizing “hey, I could do this too - and I could bring something to it that nobody else has”. It was a genre of community, of competition, of creating a movement.
Hip-hop welcomed a better beat, a better rhyme, from anyone – whatever that person could add. They didn't have to ask anybody's permission and they could remix and build on top of what already worked while trying new ideas. A DJ or MC didn’t have to start from scratch (although sometimes a good scratch was just the thing) to achieve greatness.
The result was an explosion of experimentation that made hip-hop grow and develop at a breakneck pace. The following decades of hip-hop history are a story of relentless innovation based on that core ethos: sample, mix, add, repeat. It's a form of music where inherently anything can be composed together, anyone can take a shot, and everything that came before becomes higher ground for something even better.
That ethos is powerful. It creates a self-reinforcing cycle that can't help but grow and overcome barriers – and ultimately it let hip-hop ramify into every corner of the globe. The hip-hop ethos starts small, but packs the double-punch of adaptability and exponential growth.
Sampling Code and Remixing Assets
That's what Web3 is about at its core too. Like hip-hop, Web3 lets anybody sample, mix, add, and repeat to create something with multiplying power – and something of growth through community.
Music has the power to deeply affect our lives – and so does identity and ownership. All of the things that matter most to us have to do with who we are, and what we own. We're talking about everything from banking to gaming, mortgages to collectibles, professional credentials to social media. These are applications that are definitional to who we are, but today these applications are incredibly difficult to build, and in the end they're all just separate, disconnected worlds; you can't take your identity or ownership with you when you log out.
Blockchain gave us the possibility of an open network where anybody can own any kind of asset, and anybody can build open source code that can interact with any of those assets. Those are the essential elements that let Web3 grow and adapt like hip-hop. Great ideas can get remixed, recombined, and (as long as the blockchain platform is built for it, like Radix) freely atomically composed. Assets can leap across applications like great beats and hooks, creating connections and opportunities to build something much more powerful. Anybody can be inspired and build something that makes people say “damn, I didn’t even know you could do that”.
Vitalik, Rune, Hayden, and Andre are the DJ Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, Kurtis Blow, and Run-DMC of Web3 – some of the first to pick up the tech and kick off an unstoppable cycle. They riffed and built on top of what came before to make something even greater, and create higher ground for those to follow.
The Hip-Hop Story of Web3 From Here
It’s still the very early years of Web3. And like the early years of hip-hop, it’s not ready for the mainstream. It’s raw, and only for the dedicated. The world doesn’t yet take it seriously.
But it took many years for the world to take hip-hop seriously too. Every hit record was considered a fluke, not part of an important new musical movement. It took 10 years for the Grammys to recognize a rap artist. Actual congressional hearings were held by those suspicious that rap was a dangerous threat to polite society without any redeeming merit.
Despite the resistance, hip-hop grew and dominated because an art form founded on letting anybody sample, mix, add, and repeat cannot not be stopped. It has gone through phases of gangstas and pimps, high-minded conscious ideology, comic books and kung-fu, nostalgic jazz and funk, and raw futurism. It has created collectives of like-minded artists, and has also often been split by internal conflict. But despite all this chaos – likely even because of it – hip-hop never stagnates, it always moves forward.
Web3 finally brings the hip-hop ethos to digital identity and ownership. Take away all the crypto noise and it’s about a community of individuals with an insatiable urge to create something great for the people, over and over. The tools will get better, and builders will always find something new to try that expands what the world can do with digital identity and ownership. Web3 will always move forward.
We’ve got some years of struggle ahead of us, but it’s going to change everything. If you’re a builder, just keep dropping records, and rocking shows.